From Birding

Lifebird #345 – No Longer My Nemesis

Species  Townsend’s Solitaire / Myadestes townsendi
Where Vadnais Lakes, Vadnais Heights, MN
When November 18, 2010
Who Cheri S.
Number 345

Townsend’s Solitaires found in Minnesota are vagrants. Field guides do not show their territories extending beyond the eastern edge of the Rockies. But they do occur at least rarely in most areas of the state, and in a few counties (including ours, Ramsey County) they are classified by the Minnesota Ornithologist’s Union as “Occasional” (defined by the MOU as “sporadic, often as individuals; local in distribution, usually specific habitats”). It is always noteworthy when they are found here, and news of their locations are posted to statewide birding email lists.

Townsend's Solitaire at Vadnais LakeA single Townsend’s Solitaire spent much of the winter of 2007/2008 feeding on a handful of juniper trees on the property of the Minnesota Science Museum in downtown Saint Paul. I spent five or six lunch hours looking for the bird, but never saw it. Every time I was there, I met other birders on the “stakeout.” At least once, I missed an appearance by the bird by less than an hour. My efforts didn’t quite merit calling this my “nemesis bird,” but it was frustrating.

Fast forward to 2010, and another vagrant solitaire in my neck of the woods. This time news of its appearance was posted to the MOU and MnBird email lists by Gail W., who frequently reports sightings in our area. This bird was found at a lake that is just a couple of miles from our house, at a place Joann and I visit frequently. Because of the short days (it’s dark shortly after 5:00 PM now), work, and the fact that I spent the weekend of the 13th and 14th playing in a Scrabble tournament, I didn’t get a chance to look for this bird for a week after the initial reports of it.

It was clear and cool (just about 33°F at 3:00 PM) yesterday when I was there. Lots of waterfowl on the still unfrozen Vadnais Lakes: Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Trumpeter Swans and more. But I kept my eyes on the trees, not on the lake, as I walked the quarter-mile to the place where juniper trees line the road. In one spot, I saw a dozen or more Cedar Waxwings feeding on the juniper berries, but no sign of the Townsend’s. I was listening for an unfamiliar song (my field guide notes that this species sings year round), but I did not hear anything of interest.

Townsend's Solitaire at Vadnais LakeThree other birders were there on the stakeout. I recognized one as Cheri S., a past board member of the Saint Paul Audubon Society, and a friend with whom Joann and I have birded casually in Gervais Mill Park. She and I caught up a bit, and looked together for the bird for a bit over a half-hour before deciding to give it up for the day. As we walked north along the road towards our cars, we came across the small flock of Cedar Waxwings I’d seen earlier. We watched them for awhile, and just as I turned toward the parking lot to leave, Cheri called out “There it is!” And there it was. The bird that didn’t quite make it to the level of nemesis bird for me.

We watched it for another fifteen minutes or so, and Cheri fetched the other two birders to see it. I snapped a few photos—none are brilliant, but it is nice to have photos of my actual life bird—and two of them are used on this page.

See lifebird index.